By Jaime C. Laya
I spent a year doing graduate study at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. That was in 1959-60 and whites and blacks had “separate but equal” facilities. There were separate rest rooms for “colored” and “whites” and in buses, whites were to sit from the front and blacks from behind. I would sit nearer the back in buses and use colored men’s rooms to be on the safe side, although more often than not, someone (whether white or black) would wave me on to the white section.
Matters are of course different now, but racism still exists. My family and I were in Tanzania a couple of years ago and we had an excellent Maasai tour guide. We invited him to join us at New Year’s Eve dinner at the Lodge where we were staying. He dressed up for the evening—better dressed than us in fact—but was refused entrance despite our entreaties. No blacks allowed.
The charming city of Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia, with a beautiful old town and active cultural life—philharmonic orchestra, an opera house, festivals. I was there for a conference and decided to take the train to Belgrade. It was a long trip and at Trieste, three or four ladies joined me in the compartment. It was silence all the way—they had no English and I had no Yugoslavian. As we were approaching Belgrade, they all started undressing. Then Philippine Ambassador to Yugoslavia Leon Ma. Guerrero explained that they were smuggling jeans.
The place had been in my bucket list from the time I read Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra, a palace-fortress in Granada, magnificent buildings set among gardens, pools, and fountains in a spectacular setting. Straight from an early train from Seville, I lined up at the ticket booth only to learn that visits were timed and that the earliest available was for five hours later.
My Madrid resident daughter was monitoring my movements and called a friend who arrived half an hour later. He explained that the family car was elsewhere and that if I didn’t mind he would take me home on his two-wheeled wonder. Decisions are easy when there are no alternatives, so I slid on behind him and held tight on my first (and hopefully only) scooter ride down a steep winding road, across traffic-heavy streets, and up the steep winding road to the hill across the valley from the Alhambra.
Located in the Albaicin district, the home (called a “carmen”) was located at the end of a garden planted with fruits and flowers, at the edge of the cliff and with a matchless view of the Alhambra. I was graciously welcomed and soon cold cuts were served. It was way past one and my tummy was grumbling, but no there was sign of anything else. Pretty soon I had to leave (via scooter again), wondering if that was all they had for lunch. Enlightenment came later. Lunch was hours later. I had arrived at siesta hour.
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